Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Will Birds Be Migrating to Our Block Party? August 21, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Fall,Seasons,Summer,Upcoming Events — saltthesandbox @ 8:43 pm
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The boys and I just checked the weather radar to see if the rain will be ending soon — and to see if birds are migrating south towards our “No Child Left Inside” block party. If you look at this weather radar image from the Chicago Tribune‘s website, you’ll see the answer should be yes on both counts:

The animated version of this image shows the storms moving to the southeast, through Chicago.

The green-and-yellow streaks and blobs around and southeast of Chicago are rainstorms. The green circles north and west of Illinois are night-migrating birds taking off and flying south. The animated version of this image showed storms (and migrating birds) moving to the southeast, through Chicago.

Why are birds on the move? Because winds blowing from the north help migrating birds make their southward journeys. Here’s a wind map to show you what we mean:

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This map shows wind patterns at about the same time as the radar image, above. By morning we may have five to ten mile-per-hour north winds blowing through our neighborhood, just west of Chicago.

Overnight north winds may bring smaller birds like warblers, flycatchers, and thrushes to our block party. The night-migrating birds will land near sunrise and then spend the morning searching for food. If north winds continue through the day we may see some hawks migrating overhead.

Of course, north winds bring cool air, so temperatures at tomorrow’s block party may only reach the low 70s. (The neighborhood kids won’t be running under the sprinklers like they have some years.) However, our 7:30 a.m. nature walk may turn up some interesting birds, and we’ll keep our eyes and ears open for fall migrants throughout the day.

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To learn more:

You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.

The WoodCreeper.com blog tracks bird migration of New Jersey (and other parts of the United States) using weather radar.

To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements, try the Badbirdz – Reloaded blog, which includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For deeper explanations of bird migration and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.

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A Dickcissel in Our Backyard! June 1, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 9:09 am
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Dickcissels are small birds usually found in tallgrass prairies and unplowed farm fields. (As my friend Jane reminded me, “The character Laura in the book Little House on the Prairie watches Dickcissels flit in the tallgrass.”)

So this morning I was quite surprised to find one feeding in the brushy corner of our pocket-sized backyard in south Oak Park, Illinois! With their yellow-and-black breasts and stripy brown backs, Dickcissils look like miniature Meadowlarks:

The balck and yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the neck identify this as an adult male Dickcissel.

The back-and-yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the head and neck identify this bird as a male Dickcissel.

However, our Sibley Guide groups Dickcissels with the tanagers, grosbeaks, and cardinals. Sibley also says that Dickcissels sometimes hang with House Sparrows, as this one was today. In fact, when they turn away, Dickcissel backs look a lot like House Sparrow backs:

The Dickcissel back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back, but the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

The Dickcissel's back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back. However, the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

I guess it pays to look at every bird that visits your yard — you never know what will show up! It also pays to have a brush pile in your yard, however small. (Ethan repaired our brush pile earlier this spring.)

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Note added at about noon the same day:

I checked the eBird website to see where Dickcissels have been seen in our county. The closest location to us is Miller Meadow, a few miles west of here, where they have been seen in June and July the past two years. I wonder if they have nested there, since the habitat seems appropriate? (See this Illinois Birders’ Forum post for more information about Miller Meadow and nearby locations.)

And wouldn’t it be cool if this male Dickcissel found his way to the meadow habitats in Columbus Park, less than a mile east of our yard?

Note added 2 p.m. the same day:

Jill Anderson, who monitors Miller Meadow for eBird, just posted a report on IBET. She said she stopped by Miller Meadow today and saw a male Dickcissel — the first one she’s seen there this year. She also confirmed that Dickcissels have nested there the past few years.

Note added a week later: On Saturday, June 6, we made our first to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, south of Joliet, Illinois. The place was packed with singing Dickcissels, especially near the Explosives Road Trailhead! (See this map. Midewin used to be part of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant.)

We hope our backyard Dickcissel found a place like Midewin to spend the summer.

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To learn more about Dickcissels, please visit these websites:

All About Birds: For a basic description of this species, with photos and song recordings, go here.

Wikipedia: For an encyclopedia-style entry, go here.

Dickcissel Conservation in Venezuela: Because they migrate to South America during our winter, protecting this species is an international issue. Go here to read more.

 

Update on Bird Migration: This Morning’s Radar May 19, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 6:48 am
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Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune weather radar showed birds migrating away from our neighborhood. (Go here to see it.) Today’s early morning radar showed birds landing in Chicago:

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The green "doughnuts" are night-migrating birds flying north near radar installations. The green disappears as the sun rises and the birds land for the day. Image from the Chicago Tribune's online weather page. (The radar shows a real storm system over northern Michigan.)

Notice how, after all the green disappears over land, there is still green over Lake Michigan. That’s because birds who find themselves migrating over water at sunrise have no place to land. This next image shows what happens on the radar as these birds head for the closest shore:

Wtahc the green over Lake Michigan slowly disappear as birds migrating over water head for the closest land. This radar image ends an hour later than the one above.

Watch the green over Lake Michigan slowly disappear as birds migrating over water head for the closest land. This radar image ends an hour later than the one above -- the over-water migrants will be extra tired once they come to Earth.

So, our neighborhood should have some newly arrived migrants this morning, and parks and neighborhoods along the Lake Michigan shoreline should be packed with newly arrived birds. It will be interesting to read today’s online reports from places like Montrose Park in Chicago.

As always, we’ll let you know what we see and hear in our neighborhood.

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Note added at 7:45 a.m. the same day: So far we have heard no warblers singing in our yard. We did just hear a Gray Catbird singing one or two backyards to the south — they had been gone from our neighborhood for several days.

Note added at 9:45 a.m. the same day: The day’s first report on Montrose birds has been posted on the Illinois birders e-mail list. It stated, “Montrose was pretty good this morning, finally. Obviously last night’s southwest winds did some good.” The report listed 21 species of warblers. (A report from yesterday listed 17 species.)

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To learn more:

You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.

To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements, try the Badbirdz – Reloaded blog, which includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For deeper explanations of bird migration and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.

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Tracking Late Spring Migration on Weather Radar May 18, 2009

This spring we’ve been tracking the overnight migration of birds using the Chicago Tribune‘s online weather radar. (For examples of earlier posts, go here and here.) Last night’s weather radar showed migrating birds headed north, but we’re afraid more birds left our area than arrived on the southerly winds. Here’s the Midwest radar image from early Sunday night:

The green circles on this radar image are birds taking off and heading north, starting at about 10 p.m. on Sunday night, shows

The green circles on this radar image are birds taking off and heading north, starting at about 9 p.m. Chicago time. Many more birds are migrating on the western (left) side of the map. There were lots of birds taking off from our neighborhood in the Chicago area.

The image shows much more migration in the Mississippi valley (on the left side of the map) than in Ohio and eastern Indiana (on the right). Looking at a map of wind patterns, we can see why:

Overnight, there were stong windos from the south over the Mississippi Valley, but weak winds top the east. (Regional winds map from teh Chicago Tribue's weather page).

Overnight there were strong winds from the south over the Mississippi Valley (on the left side of the map), but weak winds to the east. (Midwest regional wind map from the Chicago Tribune's weather page).

To see why the winds blew this way, we can check the Midwest weather map for early Monday morning. It shows a high pressure area centered over northeast Indiana:

The weather map from early this morning shows a high pressure area ("H") centered over eastern Indiana and Ohio. Winds blow clockwis around a high pressure center, roughly paralleling the whit lines of equal pressure (called "isobars"). The Chicago Tribune map is from early Monday morning, May. 18, 2009.

The Chicago Tribune weather map from early this morning shows a high pressure area ("H") centered over northeast Indiana. Winds blow clockwise around a high pressure center, roughly paralleling the white lines of equal pressure (called "isobars").

Winds blow clockwise around a high pressure area, which is why the winds blew from the south over Illinois and states to the west and north. Winds were calm near the center of the high in eastern Indiana and Ohio. Because birds in these areas did not have southerly winds to help their journey north, they stayed where they were.

Now lets look at the radar image from near sunrise. It shows migrating birds landing as sunrise shifts from east to west across the map:

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The green circles shrink as the sun rises and migrating birds come in for a landing. The image shows few birds landing in our neighborhood, near Chicago. (This Chicago Tribune radar image runs from 5:00 to 5:50 a.m. Chicago time.)

The radar image shows few birds landing in our neighborhood just west of Chicago. Lots of birds took off from here last night, but few landed here this morning. It seems last night’s migration took birds away from our neighborhood, but did not replace them with new birds from the south.

So, what does this mean for bird watching in our neighborhood? For one thing, it’s been very quiet this morning. For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing warbler songs at sunrise, but I’ve heard none so far this morning. Maybe it’s the cool weather — the temperature was only 41 degrees at 6 a.m. — but I suspect we’ve got fewer migratory birds in our neighborhood this morning.

Today we’ll keep track of the birds that visit our yard in south Oak Park, and I’ll take a walk to nearby Columbus Park on the west side of Chicago. Check back tonight for a report on what birds we find — and what birds have left our area.

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Note added at 9:15 a.m. the same day: As we were getting ready for school, we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing across the alley and an Eastern Towhee singing a few backyards to the south. So, there are still a few migrants around our neighborhood. However, we still have not heard a warbler singing this morning.

Note added at 8:00 p.m. the same day: Well, we never did see or hear a warbler in our yard today — they have left our block, at least temporarily.

The first warbler I heard today was a Tennessee Warbler singing in the Harrison Street Arts District at 10:20 a.m.as I walked to Columbus Park. I identified only seven species of warbler in Columbus Park this morning, plus there were a couple of warbler-like songs I could not identify with certainty. That’s compared with the 25 warbler species we found there during the Spring Bird Count nine days ago. After school we made a quick trip to Humboldt Park in Chicago to see a rare duck (Surf Scoter) — we saw only five species of warbler there.

This could all change tomorrow. Right now there are south winds blowing up from central Illinois and Indiana, and they should keep blowing overnight. If there are birds down there that didn’t migrate last night, they could take off and arrive here this morning — or maybe they’ll pass right through to Wisconsin.

To see what happened the next day, go here.

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To learn more:

You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.

To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements, try the Badbirdz – Reloaded blog, which includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For deeper explanations of bird migration and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.

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Spring Bird Count and Ethan’s New Blog May 11, 2009

Saturday was Spring Bird Count day in Illinois, and our family counted birds at several Chicago-area parks and west-side locations. Our most impressive finds were at Columbus Park, where we recorded 80 species for the day!

My son Ethan (aged 13) describes the Columbus Park part of our day on his new blog, nicknamed “OCB” for “Obsessive Compulsive Birding.” His first post is here:

http://ocbirding.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/columbus-park-spring-bird-count-warbler-and-allergies/

Ethan had to drop out of the rest of our day because of his allergies, but Aaron and I continued until after sunset:

For the entire day of birding we found 92 species. That’s not a bad day for city birding, especially when you don’t have any large lakes, marshes, or mudflats in your count area.

So I guess this goes to show that you don’t need to travel far to see great birds during the migration season. A place like Columbus Park provides a range of small habitats where migrating birds can stop over and refuel for the rest of their journeys.

But now our thoughts are turning to nesting birds. Will Baltimore Orioles join Warbling Vireos and Song Sparrows and nest in Columbus Park this year? Will the Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks successfully raise young in local nests? And which birds will nest on our block this year?

We’ll post about nesting birds over the next few weeks.

 

American Avocet and More Year Birds in Lake County, Illinois May 2, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 8:39 pm
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We’ve been having a great time birding in our neighborhood this week, but the boys were begging to go farther afield to search for year birds unlikely close to home. So, after making Ethan sleep in so he’d recover from his cold, we headed north to Lake County, Illinois. Our first stop was Waukegan Beach, where we saw the Tricolored Heron that’s been hanging there for several days. We also met some other birders, who told us they’d seen an American Avocet and nine Willets at the farthest north beach in Illinois. After seeing first-of-year Bank Swallows and Purple Martins flying over the Waukegan beaches — but not seeing Willets — we decided to head to Stateline Beach.

When we got there at 12:15 p.m., all the Willets were gone, but the Avocet was swimming just offshore. Unfortunately it was scared off by beachwalking humans before Ethan could get photos. We watched it fly eastward and then land about 150 meters out. It swam for 10 minutes or so until the coast was clear, and then flew back to the beach:

After beign scared off by beachwalkers, the American Avocet waited off shore, then returned once the coast was clear. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

After getting scared off by beachwalkers, the American Avocet waited off shore. It flew back to the beach once the coast was clear. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The boys slowly crept close enough to get some semi-decent, identifiable photos. After ten more minutes of Avocet watching, we left in search of other year birds.

We found three year birds at the south unit of Illinois Beach State Park — Yellow-throated Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Veery — but no Willets. So, we returned to Stateline Beach at 4:30 p.m., hoping that morning’s Willets had returned. No such luck. The Avocet, however, was still there, in the same place we’d left it. After a couple with a small dog approached within 50 meters of the Avocet without scaring it away, the boys crept a bit closer than they’d been before, and got somewhat better photos. (Ethan’s Sony DSC-H50 kept focusing on seawalls and sand rather than on the bird.)

The American Avocet mostly sttod or swam in sahllow water. It did not feed while we were watching. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The American Avocet mostly stood or swam in shallow water. It did not feed while we were watching. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We also saw a Cliff Swallow on our second visit the Stateline Beach. That was the boys’ eighth year bird for the day. With any luck our trusting Avocet won’t get eaten overnight and will still be there Sunday morning.

On the way home we looked once again for Willets at Waukegan Beach. We later read on IBET that we’d just missed a flock of more than 80 Willets. Willets may become our nemesis bird of 2009.

Here are some photos of two other year birds for May 2, 2009. To start, here’s our best shot of the Tricolored Heron:

We couldn't get close enough to the Tricolored Heron to get a good photo with Ethan's camera. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We couldn't get close enough to get a good photo with Ethan's camera. However, this shot shows that the Tricolored Heron looks like a smaller, darker version of a Great Blue Heron. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Here are a couple of photos of a Veery we saw along the Dead River Trail at the south unit of Illinois Beach State Park. There were two Veerys along the east section of the trail — the part that goes through the woods — in a pool behind the first bench.

This view shows the Veery's reddish-brown upper parts. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The Veery is a kind of thrush. This view shows the Veery's reddish-brown upper parts. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

This view shows the faint spots on the Veery's breast.

This view shows the faint spots on the Veery's breast. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Finally, the boys saw their first baby Canada Geese of the spring. (I saw my first ones yesterday at Columbus Park.)

These hatchling Canada Geese were with their parents at North Point Marina. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

These hatchling Canada Geese were with their parents at North Point Marina. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

 

Warblers on the Rooftops, Thrushes in the Alley April 30, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Neighborhood Habitats,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 8:55 pm
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Our out-of-town bird visitors have been exploring every aspect of Oak Park’s urbanized habitat. The past few days they’ve been partying in the streets. Maybe they got tired of the traffic, because Thursday afternoon we watched warblers on our neighbors’ rooftops. Ethan captured a Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm Warbler in a single view:

Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm Warblers on a neighbor's roof.

From left to right, Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm Warblers on a neighbor's roof. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

They've shoift positions -- now it's Pine, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warbler.

They've shifted positions. Now it's Pine, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warbler. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

By zooming in on the Pine Warbler, we can see it's white wing bars, olive-brown streaks on the side of the breast, and white under its tail and belly.

By zooming in on the Pine Warbler, we can see it's white wing bars, the brown streaks on the side of the breast, and the white under its tail and belly. The Yellow-rumped Warbler's "butter butt" is obscured by the Pine Warbler's head. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

That wasn’t all we saw today. When he was taking out the recycling at about sunset, Aaron saw two Swainson’s Thrushes and a Gray-cheeked Thrush in the alley. Other than Robins, they were the first thrushes we’ve seen on our block since last fall. Unfortunately, they didn’t stick around for photos.

We also got no photos of the Pine Siskins that visited our backyard thistle sock for less than a minute. I watched the female feed for about 20 seconds. She chased off a male Siskin who tried to land beside her, and then she left before the boys made it to the back window. We hadn’t seen Siskins in our backyard since the day before Christmas.

Overall, it was a great day for neighborhood birding, and we were sorry to see it end. We saw or heard 30 species without leaving our block, including seven species of warbler. To see the full list, please visit the eBird page for our yard and block.

The winds are from the southwest tonight — tail winds for any birds that migrate northwards. I wonder which new birds may arrive overnight, and which ones may leave the neighborhood?